Writers seem to be broken into two camps: those who view writing exercises helpful and freeing and those who see them as time consuming yet sometimes necessary. I think exercises can be a great way to pull your brain out of editing mode and jack it into a creative mode. They can also encourage us to explore different writing styles and techniques, deepening our knowledge of craft. And the fact is, sometimes our brains need a nudge. Author and fellow creative Jessica Bell has a few unique exercises to share that can kickstart creativity!
Five Writing Exercises That Will Keep You on Top of Your Game
When you think about writing exercises, does your stomach sink? Does it remind you of homework? Maybe you should try to look at them from another perspective. Think of them as a tool to keep you on top of your game, or as an inspiration boost.
Sometimes, when you are working on one particular manuscript, your brain becomes lazy. It slips into the routines and personalities of what you believe your characters to be, and creates a bit of a wall. This means that you could be cutting yourself off from possible inspiration that could improve your work, and help grow new ideas.
Look at it this way:
If you are cooped up in a house without windows for a month, you’ll forget how wonderful it is to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, and you are going to be quite deficient in vitamin D. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Have you ever heard writers talking about the “bones” of their stories? Well, writing exercises are like the sun. They keep your bones strong. And they shine a new light on your muse.
Here are five exercises that will replenish your muse with that vitamin D:
Exercise #1. You are going to write a short scene between two characters, A and B (any gender and age). A dislikes B, but B has a romantic crush on A. At the end of the scene they should both have the opposite opinion of one another: B begins to dislike A, and A begins to crush on B. We should be able to witness the transition from beginning to end. But there’s a catch. You must write from the point of view of ONE character only. Use 3rd person limited, past tense. Use at least three similes/metaphors in your scene. It can be as many words as you wish.
Exercise #2. Step one: Watch the first ten minutes of your favourite movie (or until the opening scene comes to a natural end). If there is dialogue, write it down. If not, describe what is happening. Note: Do not do this exercise with a movie that has been adapted from a novel you have read. Step two: Dissect the behaviour and actions of the actors, and/or the appearance and atmosphere of the setting. Write the first ten minutes of the movie as if it were the opening chapter of a novel.
Exercise #3. Step one: Listen to a song that makes you emotional. In point form, write down how it makes you feel, the memories it evokes, and anything non-specific that comes to mind. Step two: Use your list to adapt the song into a vignette. You do not have to directly use every single thing on your list. It is there for inspiration. Listen to the song as many times as necessary. Avoid using actual lyrics from the song. You might like to submit your finished piece to a literary journal (like mine!) and you do not want to infringe copyright.
Exercise #4. Step one: If you’re a poetry fan, find your favourite poem. If you’re not a poetry fan, feel free to choose one of mine. Read it through once. Write down the feelings it evokes. Step two: Read through the poem again. What is it about? Note down your thoughts. Do not be afraid of getting wrong answers. There is no such thing as a wrong answer here. This exercise is designed to purely spark your imagination. Step three: Read through the poem again, more slowly, focusing on one line at a time. Identify the imagery each line evokes, and the deeper emotions related to this imagery. Has any kind of symbolism been used to illustrate this emotion? If so, what? Is there a prominent theme? Make notes. If you’re drawing a blank, which might be the case if you have never read poetry before, choose a word from each line, and play a word-association game with yourself. This might help trigger some ideas. Step four: Read the poem again. Is there any sort of narrative? (i.e. does it tell a story?) If there is no narrative, create one of your own based on the information you have written down in steps one to three. Now adapt this poem into a short story or vignette.
Note: If you use one of my poems for this exercise, please email your piece to me. I’d love to see what you’ve come up with! You never know, maybe I’ll like it so much that I’ll publish it in Vine Leaves Literary Journal.
Exercise #5. Step one: Choose your favourite television series and write out the dialogue for as much of one episode as you can. Not from memory! Watch the episode and pause the video to write it down. Step two: Read through the dialogue while simultaneously watching the episode again. Identify the instances of subtext (the meaning beneath the dialogue; what the speaker really means, but doesn’t say). A character’s behaviour will always embody clues. Step three: Refer to your notes from step two to write a completely different scene using the subtext you identified.
Have you ever done any writing exercises like this before? Have they helped you? If so, how? If not, why do you think that is?
Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/ guitarist, is a Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.
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